Brrummm Brrummm Brrummmm

In my book, “A Different Way of Seeing”, I mention that one of the hardest parts of losing my sight was losing the ability to drive a car. It really hit me hard that I couldn’t just climb into my fire-red City Golf – named the Jean Genie after a David Bowie song – and go where I wanted, when I wanted.

Uber has given me back that sense of independence. Being able to open the app on my iPhone, enter my desired destination and voila… A few minutes later I have a ride! Is unbelievably liberating!

Please don’t think I’ve been left stranded in the past. My amazing family and friends have always been willing to rearrange their schedules to help me get wherever I’ve needed to. But It’s hard for me to ask for that kind of help sometimes – especially since I know people have their own lives and their own commitments as well. Uber gives me an alternative for those times when friends and family can’t help me out.

Okay, so I admit that learning the app had its up’s and down’s. The first time I used the app on my own I got so frustrated that I had to get help from a friend – thanks, Cindy! Then there was the time I wanted to Uber to a family party at my in-laws… and I couldn’t get the “order Uber” button to work, so I had to ask my husband Craig to order on my behalf – we later found out that the credit card linked to my profile had expired. But generally, the more I use the app, the easier it is… or maybe It’s just that I become more comfortable with it.

Here’s what I love most about Uber:

  • The in-built safety features – not only is there a permanent record of each of my trips and the details of the driver, but I can also send a link to whomever I’m meeting so they can track my journey. So, if anything untoward were to happen, there’d be a pretty good way to follow my route.

  • Uber’s policy about guide dogs – Every Uber driver is required to accept a guide dog as a passenger, as part of their agreement with Uber. Some of my blind friends have been told by other taxi services that they won’t take guide dogs, which has effectively stopped my friends from getting to where they needed to be. But that won’t happen with Uber!

I can’t speak highly enough of the service that Uber provides, of the wonderful Uber drivers I’ve met and how well they’ve looked after Fiji and me, or of the incredible sense of freedom that Ubering has given me.

Maybe you’re thinking that the degree to which I’m waxing lyrical about Uber is a little extreme… and maybe you’re right. But if you had the ability to go places and do things independently for the first time in 25 years, wouldn’t you also feel the same?

More International Exposure – and A Brand New Friend!

A few months ago I submitted an article to the Blind New World website, based in Massachusetts in the USA. Basically, I wrote the article, sent it to them and forgot about it.

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that the article had been published.

Not only was I delighted that my article had made the grade, but it’s led to me making a new friend. A fellow blind writer in Milwaukee read the article and was moved to contact me. Since then Carla and I have been chatting via email and, shortly before Christmas, via phone.

Never underestimate the impact your words and experiences may have on those who read them – and thank you, Carla for reminding me of this all-important lesson!

Here’s the link to my article:

Sure, she’s blind — and she’s so much more

and while you’re there, why not read some of the other inspiring stories from other visually impaired people who refuse to let their lack of sight control what they can achieve…

The Best Kind of Mistaken Identity

Cds 2016 11 26 08 56 32The first time it happened I was waiting to cross a road.

A car pulled over to the side of the road and the window was lowered. A lady leaned across from the driver’s seat and asked how long I’d been training guide dogs.

Last weekend it happened again.

In conversation with my husband, Craig, someone else said they hadn’t realized that I was blind and was working with Fiji – they thought I was a guide dog trainer teaching a prospective guide dog.

Now, I don’t know if it’s because Fiji is still so young and people don’t believe she could have been working for almost a year, or whether we are just working so seamlessly that people can’t believe that I’m blind, but whatever the reason, I can’t imagine a better case of mistaken identity!

Can you?

An Observation on Museums

Cds cds IMG 4365 6 7 tonemappedI have very clear memories of being dragged round museums as a child… with dragged being the operative word. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in history; it’s just that what I love about history is the stories of people and their actions, and I found it hard to see the stories in the dry, static, and distant displays that seemed characteristic of museums back then.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’ve spent years avoiding museums.

Two years ago I decided to put my childhood memories to the test, and bravely went forth to once more visit a museum. To my amazement I found the whole experience had changed – decidedly for the better! No longer is a visit to a museum limited to walking long corridors and glancing at distant displays and artefacts. Instead, it seems museums are focussing on the stories that make up history, and are making displays as interactive as possible, with sounds, movies, and tactile displays that really help to bring history to life.

To be fair, I’ve really only visited museums in Poland and, for all I know, this change may be a purely Polish phenomenon. Some of the museums where I think it’s been done really well are the Schindler Museum in Krakow, and both the Warsaw uprising Museum and the Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

In these museums I felt we were able to immerse ourselves into the history in a very real way and, as a blind tourist, I found the excellent audio guides gave me even more insight into the exhibits.

Of course, there were a few occasions that poor Craig had to wait for me to finish listening to a segment of the audio guide when he had already learned all he wanted from walking round the room. But I’m pretty sure I repaid his patience by telling him extra snippets from the audio guide that he wouldn’t otherwise have learned.

On the down side, it meant that a museum visit for which we had allocated an hour often took us a lot longer –like two or 3 hours. But hey, we were on holiday so it wasn’t like we had any real deadlines to stick to.

I really hope this isn’t just a Polish thing because I promise you I’ll be visiting museums wherever we decide to go next… and I’d really hate to be disappointed!

(photo by Craig Strachan)

Another Year Gone – Welcome to 2017!

Cds IMG 3358Last year, at the beginning of 2016, I wrote an article about what I hoped I would be able to achieve in the year. Looking back at that article a few days ago I was surprised – and delighted – to realize that I’d achieved most of the targets I’d set for myself – I’d finished and published my book, I’d given a few presentations and workshops, had spent time polishing my own skills as a speaker and facilitator… and written 50 articles for the year. Tracking what I’d done against my intentions for the year gave me quite a feeling of accomplishment!

Of course, the question now becomes what I want to achieve during 2017. Like I said last year, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions… In fact, I’m not really one for setting myself specific goals for the year. Rather, I prefer having a set of intentions – broad ideas of some of the areas I’d like to focus on over the next 12 months.

And here they are:

  • Continue to market my new book, ”A Different Way of Seeing”
  • Continue developing my speaking business into new areas
  • Investigate using new technologies to create new initiatives as a speaker, facilitator and author… at least, technologies that are new to me!
  • Investigate different channels to allow me to reach new audiences.
  • Continue writing regular articles for this blog and building my mailing list
  • Foster relationships with organisations and individuals in the disability/blindness community around the world

As I’ve already said, these aren’t goals in the traditional sense – they certainly aren’t SMART goals – but they are guidelines that will help me plan what activities to spend my time on in 2017.

So as we enter a new year, with all its bright shiny opportunities, may I wish you all a sparkling and exciting year full of fun, laughter, learning and love!

Back to School for Fiji and I

14100239 10153934659728391 7571944690567485886 nRecently I’ve done a few PR visits with the South African guide-Dog Association for the Blind. Fiji and I both love being part of these PR visits, especially when we’re asked to visit a school.

We recently went to one of the local primary schools. When we got there we were delighted to find we weren’t the only ones there –service dog Burlesque and puppy-in-training Cosmo met us at the gate with exuberantly wagging tails. The dogs had a wild romp around the school grounds before we entered the school hall –a chance for all of them to burn off a little excitement and energy before we went to talk to the learners about how guide dogs and service dogs work with their owners.

Of course, even when we were in the hall, the dogs didn’t realize that playtime was over and spent much of the school visit trying to entice each other to continue playing… much to the delight of the learners who giggled as the dogs tried to leopard-crawl across the floor to continue their games.

When it was my turn to speak I told the learners what a help Fiji is to me. I explained a little about how we work, how she shows me where steps are and how we avoid obstacles. The teachers told me afterwards that the children were wide-eyed with wonder at all that Fiji is able to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that Cosmo stole the show by insisting on adding his voice when his puppy-walker was speaking. With almost delicious irony he started barking just as Jhanet was explaining that one of her tasks is to try and keep him quiet.

The photograph of Jhanet and Cosmo, Burlesque and owners Gail and Craig, and Fiji and myself was taken after all the excitement was over, and the dogs had calmed down enough to pose for a photograph.

As an aside, just after this picture was taken Fiji decided she deserved a treat and stuck her nose into the doggy treat bag Gail kept for Burlesque… and stole several pieces of biltong! Luckily we caught her before she ate too much.

If you’d like Fiji and I to come and speak at your children’s school please make contact with us on my website: www.loisstrachan.com

Finally, the Journey Draws to an End

Lois Cover frontI know I’ve been quiet for a while. But I Promise you I’ve had a really good reason for it– I’ve been finishing off my book, A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an “Ordinary” Life in an Extraordinary Way.

After what feels like a long journey spanning 15 months, the book is finally with the printer, which means I will be opening pre-orders any day now…

I still have a few observations from my recent trip to Poland to share with you, but somehow this feels like it deserves to be shared first, so I’ll go back to those articles soon.

Just know that I’m busy setting up the processes so you can order the book as soon as possible… just in time for you to read it over the holidays!

Watch this space for more updates on how to get your own copy of the book…

Blind-lines and Bubble-wrap

Cds 2016 08 29 12 05 18Have you ever considered what it is like catching a train when you’re blind? Not being able to see the edge when you’re walking along the platform, and trying to find your way around a large and busy station with the sound of trains screaming in and out of platforms.

For 12 long years I caught the train to work in Simon’s Town and the fear of accidentally falling off the platform was never far from my mind. Okay, the fear was made worse by two bad experiences I had, one when I fell onto the platform, and one when Eccles fell off it. Thankfully, Craig was with me so he jumped down onto the tracks and tossed her back to safety but I can still recall the panic as if it were yesterday.

In Poland they have very simple and effective solutions to how to keep visually-impaired passengers safely away from the edge of the platform and also to help them find their way round train and metro stations. I don’t know what they’re really called, but Craig and I refer to them as blind-lines and Bubble-wrap.

The blind-lines are raised lines on the floor that guide people to and from key places in a station – from the stairs to the platform, from the ticket office to the elevator and so on. A blind passenger can follow the blind-lines with their white canes or with their feet when walking with a guide dog. The blind-lines help them to get from one place to another easily and quickly.

Bubble-wrap are also raised markings that look a bit like cobblestones. They are placed along the edge of the platform and give visually-impaired passengers clear warning that they are too close to the edge. As soon as you feel those raised markings you move back onto the platform to safety.

You may be wondering how Craig and I came up with these particular names for the markings. Well, they’re blind-lines because they really are lines that link places together for blind people. And we use the term bubble-wrap because it looks like someone unrolled the world’s biggest strip of bubble-wrap along the platform and glued it there.

I’m sure I’m not the only blind passenger who finds travelling on trains and metros something of a challenge, and these really simple and effective solutions go a long way towards easing those fears.

Hmm… I wonder what it would take to get them implemented in our railway stations in Cape Town…

It’s All about Location

On our recent overseas trip Craig and I stayed in 7 different places – that’s 7 different places in less than 14 days. As you can imagine, I need to have techniques to learn my way round a new place as soon as I can.

Every apartment has fixtures: furniture, doorways, windows, even pictures on a wall. I use the fixtures to orientate myself and find my way round the place I’m in.

As an example, here’s how I navigated my way round one of the apartments in Warsaw. The apartment had a large combined bedroom/dining room/kitchen, with a passage down to a second bedroom and the bathroom. The front door into the apartment was on the long side of the passage, with the bathroom on the right and the doorway into the bedroom/dining room/kitchen on the left.

There was a thick mat that stretched most of the length of the passage. I used it to indicate where the doorways into each room were – when I felt the edge of the mat I knew to slow down so I wouldn’t stub my toes on the doorframes.

The main room had a window opening onto a busy street. It seemed like the traffic never stopped. While that was a little annoying in the early hours of the morning, I could use the sound to judge which way I should be facing so I wouldn’t fall over the bed, the table or the chairs. Using those fixtures it took me only a few hours to find my way round the apartment as if I had lived there for years.

Of course, it’s not always that easy. Some apartments, especially those with big open spaces, are more confusing to get around without help. But I usually manage to find some way of navigating a new space without needing sight.

Oh Look! A Polish Guide Dog!

Cds IMG 3113

It was our first afternoon in Warsaw, and we were on our way to Łazienki Park, or Royal Baths Park. Every Sunday in summer free piano recitals of Chopin’s compositions are performed at the base of the giant bronze statue of Chopin in the park and we were lucky enough to arrive in Warsaw on a Sunday.

We were surprized when a chocolate brown Labrador guide dog and her owner climbed onto the crowded bus two stops after we did. What an amazing coincidence to see a guide dog on our very first bus trip in the city! The chocolate brown Lab settled down on the floor of the bus and went to sleep as Labradors are wont to do.

We watched as the partners climbed off the bus at the same stop as us, walked across the road and disappeared into the crowds streaming into Łazienki Park. I think I felt something like the awe that my sighted friends say they feel when watching Fiji and I at work – it was wonderful to see that team working together so confidently!

Something unusual happened when it was my turn to climb off the bus. A lady who was waiting to board the bus stretched out a hand and assisted me from the bus onto the pavement. I’d never experienced that before – anywhere in the world. It was a thoughtful and generous gesture for her to have made.

Then it happened on the way home. And on the next bus trip. And the one after that. In fact I can’t recall a single bus, tram or metro journey in Warsaw that a well-meaning member of the public didn’t offer me help when I stepped off. Maybe it’s just part of the friendliness of the Polish people, or their overall awareness of those around them.

Or maybe I just looked like I desperately needed the support… but I don’t think so.

(photo by Craig Strachan)

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